The notion of spheres in soren kierkegaard a philosophical insight


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The notion of spheres in soren kierkegaard a philosophical insight

  1. 1. Research on Humanities and Social Sciences www.iiste.orgISSN 2224-5766(Paper) ISSN 2225-0484(Online)Vol.2, No.5, 2012 The Notion of Spheres In Soren Kierkegaard: A Philosophical Insight ONWUNALI KEVIN UGOCHUKWU Department of Philosophy, Imo State University, Owerri, Imo State. Nigeria. +234 803 338 049 71 scholakevin@yahoo.comABSTRACTThe interchangeability of the word “sphere” with “stage” in the three stratas of life experiences of an individual inthe writings of soren Kierkegaard raised arguments amidst the admirers of the works of soren Kierkegaard. Whilesome scholars appreciate using the word ‘‘stage’’, others admire using the word “sphere” this wanton usage ofstage and sphere hitherto culminated into an academic distortion. This amidst other distractions like thepseudonymous writings of some of Kierkegaard’s works have credited the texts of soren Kierkegaard as notachieving any real value, idealized and a retrospective picture of authorship. Consequently, posing a problem tounderstanding the Kierkegaardian texts and his mind.This article tends to demystify the seeming shrouded darkness in understanding precisely the mind of SorenKierkegaard. This article most verily makes easier to understanding the texts of Kierkegaard by eventually taking aposition in the wanton usage of these words, ‘‘sphere’’ and ‘‘stage’’Keywords; Spheres, Faith, Reason, Ethical idea1 INTRODUCTION There are three spheres on an individual’s lifeline. The spheres are; The Aesthetic, The Ethical, and TheReligious. This is Kierkegaard’s most influential doctrine, the single contribution with which he is praised by the entirehistories of philosophy. Kierkegaard (1941:448) writes in this view: There are thus three spheres of existence, The aesthetic, the ethical and the religious. Two boundary zones correspond to these three, irony, constituting boundary between the aesthetic and the ethical; humor, as the Religious1. James Collins, (1953:42) discussing the Kierkegaardian spheres writes; It is his way of stating the basic choices which confront the concrete individual, in his search for mature self-possession. They are the existential determinants of Human character, the general modes of living, which serves as rival patterns and principles2.2 SPHERES OF AN INDIVIDUAL’S EXISTENCE Soren Kierkegaard through the movement of these spheres, from one sphere to another, leads the individualinto existence, so that one discovers oneself and by the act of choice, commences to exist. This is the dialectical movement in Kierkegaard. Ogbonna P. Anyaehe writes: 121
  2. 2. Research on Humanities and Social Sciences www.iiste.orgISSN 2224-5766(Paper) ISSN 2225-0484(Online)Vol.2, No.5, 2012 Dialectic is the key to understanding Kierkegaard and not vice versa. . . Dialectic is an invitation to the human existential universe, the human basis, which uses its apex in religious life (in becoming a Christian) in personal appropriation of the divine revelation3. The totality of Kierkegaard’s dialectic is that, it leads the individual into existence, to make a self discovery.Whence, the self is discovered, the individual beholds reality or actuality, and this is the fact of existence.2.1 HOW THE IDEA OF THE SPHERES MAY HAVE EVOLVED But the curious mind may quickly ask, how did Kierkegaard come about these spheres of his existentialphilosophy?. Well, scholars like James Collins, Anyaehe P. Ogbonna, have tried to offer answers to thisquestion, out of a rigorous study on Kierkegaard. Anyaehe Ogbonna (ibid: 61) writes: This whole idea seems rather to have been forced on him by reflection upon his own experiences, and he also sought the leading principles under which he could organize his literary studies, his extensive observation of human characters, as well as the lessons of his own life4. Therefore, Soren Kierkegaard got the idea from reflection about copious studies on differentphilosophers, scholars and particularly Hegel. An examination of Soren Kierkegaard’s early papers and journals, reveal that, for long time, he searched uncertainly, in quest of the leading principles, under which he could organize his literary studies, his extensive observation of human characters and the lessons of his own life. Initially, he applied the terms ‘stage’ and ‘sphere’ wantonly, to any field of human endeavour, such as political or military interests. Gradually however, he came to reserve these terms, in their pregnant and technical serves, for the most fundamental commitments and organizing ideals available to man kind. Attention has been called to a misunderstanding which the term ‘stage’ may produce. It may be believed that, an individual is required to begin with the aesthetic level of the ladder of life and then mount up in succession to the ethical and religious levels. In this respect, the term ‘sphere of existence’, is less misleading, since spheres may well be treated as simultaneously present and as overlapping.2.2 PROBLEM OF THE KIERKEGAARDIAN SPHERES OF EXISTENCE. But here comes a problem with the Kierkegaardian spheres of existential fullness, passing from the aesthetic, through the ethical, to the religious life. What remains of the lower sphere after an individual has chosen a higher level or even the highest, Soren Kiergaard did not tell. James Collins (ibid: 46)writes: The ‘dethroned’ sphere of existence does not simply disappear, for there are esthetic and ethical needs and powers in every man which cannot be eradicated. But Kierkegaard is unwilling to make the flat statement that all lower values, once they are recognized to be genuine and yet interior, can be incorporated on the higher level and made to serve the higher ends5. 122
  3. 3. Research on Humanities and Social Sciences www.iiste.orgISSN 2224-5766(Paper) ISSN 2225-0484(Online)Vol.2, No.5, 2012 Soren Aabye Kierkegaard, in a subtle response to what happens to the lower sphere when one has chosen ahigher one, explains that, an individual’s real predicament is to be placed between aesthetic way of living, and athoroughly religious one. No permanent footing can be maintained on a purely ethical basis. From thisexplanation, it is crystal clear that, ethical way of life has no much predicament on an individual as theaesthetic and religious outlook. Most probable then, any move to explain what happens to a lower sphere of lifewhen one has chosen a higher one may land Soren Kierkegaard into an inconsistency and confusion of ideassince, he will have to explain what remains of the ethical way of life when an individual chooses the religiousway of life. In relation to this, James Collins (ibid: 47) comments: …but so great is the gap between the latter and Christian religiousness that Kierkegaard (or at least his ‘philosophical’ Pseudonym, Johannes Climacus), sometimes denied that, anything from the aesthetic and human order, survives the leap of faith. He lacked full confidence in the power of the supernationl order to transform natural abilities and perfections without compromising Its own transcendent character6.2.3 WHY KIERKEGAARD MAY HAVE CHOSE ONLY THREE SPHERES OF EXISTENCE. As for why Soren Kierkegaard chose only three spheres of life instead of five or even ten. Renownedacademicians of quote and repute like, James Valone, Anyaehe P. Ogbonna, James Collins registered theiropinions. Valone James reveals that, the values by which people live are fewer, therefore, no point creatingunnecessary spheres of life. Anyaehe P. Ogbonna, highlighted that, when Kierkegaard writes on each of thesestages of spheres, he is dealing with a unique and distinct lifestyle, each of which is complete in itself andincompatible, moreover, with any of the other lifestyles. Therefore, the lifestyle being unique and distinct andas Valone ,reveals, being fewer gives no reason for creating more spheres of life. James Collins on the otherhand, explained that, Kierkegaard borrowed Hegel’s triadic structure of thought, nonetheless, he applied thetripod chain of thought into human existence. James Collins (ibid: 48) communicates: Kierkegaard profited a good deal from The study of Hegel’s Logic, but he concluded that Hegel’s identification of the structure of thought with that of Being, was contradicted by human experience. Hence, he sought to ally the didactical principle with the movement of concrete human choices, rather than with the supposed unfolding of the absolute ‘Begriff’ or rational concept. The individual in his personal character and freedom, rather than the individual as the locus of universe and necessary laws, is the responsible agent in the Kierkegaardian dialectic of the modes of existing7. Valone James, Collins James, Anyaehe P. Ogbonna, all ended up in human existence, of commitments andorganized ideas. Valone James, (1983:10) interpreting Soren Kierkegaard, writes: What he is trying to communicate through his doctrine, however, is that 123
  4. 4. Research on Humanities and Social Sciences www.iiste.orgISSN 2224-5766(Paper) ISSN 2225-0484(Online)Vol.2, No.5, 2012 there are only a finite number of values in human life. So while people may live their lives, their values, systems are uniquely, distinctly tailored to their own personalities and lifestyles, there are only a limit number of fundamental values Commitments and organized ideas8. This notion of spheres leads us into introducing the three spheres of life’s way, namely, the aesthetic, theethical and the religious.3 THE AESTHETIC SPHERE In the first part of his work,either/or(enten-eller),soren Kierkegaard shows us a variety of lives and types,beginning from the lowest which is the sensory, the aesthetic individual or aesthete is essentially a drivenindividual,even if he or she thinks that he or she is pursuing a life purpose. The aesthete is easily fascinated. Inthis pursuit of the sensuous and the sensual which at the end is a chasing after the enjoyment, the aesthete isunable really to communicate because he or she is solely concerned with him or herself. James Collins(ibid; 55),describes this action of the aesthet in this form; Sensual immediacy is the basic state of the Esthete individual,when passion is admitted only at the sensuous level and apart from the moral will. It inevitably turns into abstract and selfish lust. The individual loses power over himself and is made prisoner of the search for the pleasurable moment, a moment which can never be realized to complete satisfaction.9. since the life of the aesthete realizes no complete satisfaction it ends up in despair. When the curious mindsaks, but why despair?. Soren kiekegaard explains that an individual has within himself something,which willnot be satisfied by a sensory life. This something is eternal. It is characteristic of the aesthete to belabourone sideof human life,the corporal, the finite, the temporal.yet the oter side is nonetheless there. This side constantlymakes itself felt by an anxiety. The term which best describes this call of the spirit in the sensory world, sorenKierkegaard calls dread(angst). Dread is therefore an indication that the individual has the eternal withinhimself. But the individual who ha s felt the dread within and yet obstinately persists in an existence in thesensory sphere will end in despair. On this notions ‘dread’ and ‘despair’, soren Kierkegaard wrote two of hishighly inspired books, namely, the concept of dread and the sickness unto death. In Soren Kierkegaard’s work. The Seducers Diary, translated by Manuel Davila, July 2004, the Aesthete, isseen in its most sophisticated form. Johannes, the seducer is a ‘reflective Aesthete’, who gains sensuous delightnot so much from the act of seduction but from engineering the possibility of seduction. His real aim is themanipulation of people and situations in ways which generate interesting reflections in his own voyeuristicmind. This Aesthete uses artifice, arbitrariness, irony and willful imagination, to recreate the world in his ownimage. This type of existence, is seen to be emptily self-serving and escapist. It is a despairing means ofavoiding commitment and responsibility. It fails to acknowledge one’s social debt and communal existence. Andit is self-deceiving, in so far as, it substitutes fantasies for actual states of affairs. According to OgbonnaAnyaehe, (ibid:64): He is strictly an observer, a non- participant and his life is one of cynical non-involvement. He refuses to commit himself to anything, which might 124
  5. 5. Research on Humanities and Social Sciences www.iiste.orgISSN 2224-5766(Paper) ISSN 2225-0484(Online)Vol.2, No.5, 2012 suggest fixed or observed standards of morality and rejects anything which might give direction and purposes to his life10. The Aesthete, is a slave to himself, and frivolities direct his imagination with pleasure as his guideand rule. Most distinctly outspoken, Francis Lescoe (1974:34) reacted to the aesthetic sphere and the Aesthete inthis manner: One having no fixed principles, except that he means not to be bound to anything. He has but one desire, which is to enjoy the Sweetest of life, whether it is purely sensual Pleasure or more refined. Epicureanism of the Finer things in life, and art, and ironic enjoyment of one’s own superiority over the Rest of the humanity, and he has no fear except that he may succumb to boredom11.4 THE ETHICAL SPHEREIt is from the mouth of Judge William, the spokesman for the ethical sphere, that the notion of the ethical lifestyle isdeveloped. This ethnical sphere is characterized by reason, self-determination and equilibrium. The appropriatemode of expression is the responsible use of language, for it is only language, through tenses and pronouns that givesrise to self-consciousness. The term “ethic” in Kierkegaard’s work has more than one meaning. It is used todenote, (1) A limited existential sphere, which is superseded by the higher sphere of the religious life. (2) Anaspect of life which is retained even within the religious. In the first sense, ‘ethics’ is synonymous with theHegelian notion of customary mores. In this sense, ‘ethics’ represents ‘the universal’ or more accurately, theprevailing social norms. The social norms are seen to be the highest court of appeal for judging human affairs.Even human sacrifice is justified in terms of how it serves the community, so that when Agamemnon sacrificed hisdaughter Iphigenia, he was regarded as a tragic hero since, the sacrifice is required for the success of the Greekexpedition to Trony. Soren Kierkegaard chose to use Judge William to represent the personality type, reflected inthe ethical sphere of existence.4.1 THE ETHICAL IDEA The ethical ideal is to bring every aspect of an individual’s being into conformity with the universal law, so thatwhat is essentially human may be expressed in the individual instance. The ethical existence is able to supply thegreatest lack of aesthetic life, namely, a strong will. The absence of this factor accounts for a tendency of aestheticindividuals to be irresolute and ineffective in practical affairs and skeptical in matters of intellect. Judge William’sethnical wisdom may be compressed within a single precept: ‘choose thyself’. His view is expressed in thefollowing passage, as written by Soren Kierkegaard: (1974:87-88) In choosing absolutely, I choose despair and in despair, I choose the absolute, for I myself, am the absolute, I posit the absolute, but in complete identity. With this I can say that I choose the absolute which chooses me, that I posit the absolute which posits me.125 THE RELIGIOUS SPHERETo be religious for Soren Kierkegaard means, having absolute relationship to the Absolute. Valone, (Ibid: 141)explaining deeper on what it means to be religious, writes; This in the first place assumes that there exists a chasm between the transcendent and the secular which cannot be medicated, second, this grief is reflected in the person; third, our life is a self-struggle, in which both the secular and the transcendent content for being is the ultimate goal of our life; fourth, the attempt to make the secular the ultimate end of life, will end in failure and despair, the initial step to the religious life is to recognize all these. 135.1 FAITH AND REASON At this sphere of existence, the difference between faith and reason is striking for Soren Kierkegaard. One’smovement from the aesthetic to the ethical sphere, requires an act of choice and commitment. It ushers one into thepresence of reason, in as much as, moral law is an expression of one’s universal reason. But the movement from 125
  6. 6. Research on Humanities and Social Sciences www.iiste.orgISSN 2224-5766(Paper) ISSN 2225-0484(Online)Vol.2, No.5, 2012the ethical to the religious sphere is based on faith. For Soren Kierkegaard, Christian faith is not a matter ofregurgitating church dogma. It is a matter of individual subjective passion which cannot be medicated by the clergyor by human artifacts. Faith, is the most important task to be achieved by a human being, because only on the basisof faith, does an individual have a chance to become a true self. This self, is the life work which God judges foreternity. The religious stage is achieved by acknowledging God and openly confession one’s sinfulness, choosingoneself as, guilty and hoping for divine forgiveness. Soren Kierkegaard gives a reason for this as, before God, theindividual is in the wrong. The individual is thereby, subject to an enormous burden of responsibility, for upon his existential choices,hanger his eternal salvation or damnation. Anxiety or dread (angst), is the presentiment of this terribleresponsibility, when the individual stands at the threshold of momentous existential choice. Anxiety is a two-sidedemotion; on one side, is the dread burden of choosing for eternity, on the other side, is the exhilaration of freedom inchoosing oneself. Choice occurs in the instant, which is the point at which, time and eternity interact- for theindividual creates through temporal choice, a self which will be judged for eternity. But the choice of faith is notmade once and for all. It is essential that faith be constantly renewed by means of repeated avowals of faith. Thisis the non-relational leap of faith, which makes a human individual greater than the Angles. It is in choosing Godand by making the choice for God, that the individual transcends the finiteness and temporality of his own existence,and establishes a personal relationship with his creator. This sphere of existence, is the summit of life’s waysattained through the process of reflective thought.6 CONCLUSION From this article, we have come to realize that , diverse values of different people are expressed in multipleforms. For Kierkegaard, these values, commitments, organized ideas, find their expressions in these threeunique, distinct, outstanding personality types, each boldly representing a sphere of way of life. These spheres oflife’s ways are, The Aesthetic, The Ethical, and The Religious ways of life. The ways of earthly existence ishitherto, dependent on these ways of life experiences with Soren Kierkegaard has situated in three stratas. Thesewill enable the human individual to decipher which pattern of life he or she would choose, as the journey hereon earth continues. The Aesthetic sphere offers a life style which is inadequate to fill up the human cravings forfulfillment. The Ethical sphere offers an ethical and morally appreciate able life style which goes a long way infulfilling the human craving for fulfillment. Nonetheless, human wants are insatiable and thus, the ethical sphereis unable to bring human life to final happiness or fulfillment. At this juncture, the religious sphere comes tomake perfect what the aesthetic and ethical spheres were unable to do. The religious sphere supplies the humanindividual with the lack in the aesthetic and the ethical spheres. This lack is, one returning to his or her creatorwhich is contained in the religious sphere and if one returns to God one will have that eternal peace which is thatfulfillment and happiness that is so dearly sought for.ReferencesKierkegaard Soren; Concluding Unscientific Postscript ,trans;David Swenson and Walter Lowrie, Princeton: Princeton University Press,1941,p.448.Collins James; The Mind of Kierkegaard, Chicago: Henry, Regney Company,1953, p.42.Ogbonna Anyaehe P.; A Preface to Kierkegaard, Owerri: Austin Printers and Publishers with Clacompublications, Philippines, India, 2005,p.43.Ibid; p.61.Collins James, Op.cit.,p.46.Ibid; p.47.Ibid; p.48Valone James; The Ethics and Existentialism of Kierkegaard: Outline for a philosophy of life,London: University Press of America,1983,p.10.Collins James; Op.cit.,p.54.Ogbonna Anyaehe P.; Op.cit.,p.64.Lescoe Francis; Existentialism: with or without God, new York: Alba house Press,1974,p.34. 126
  7. 7. Research on Humanities and Social Sciences www.iiste.orgISSN 2224-5766(Paper) ISSN 2225-0484(Online)Vol.2, No.5, 2012Kierkegaard Soren, Either/ Or ,volume 2,trans.,Walter Lowrie,New jersey: Princeton UniversityPress,1974,p.87-88.Valone James, The Ethics and Existentialism of Kierkegaard,Outline for a philosophy of life, Lanham:University Press of America,1983,p.141 127
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